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Why the Orthodox Church Sprinkles Everything with Water

On Easter morning I decided to visit the Orthodox temple, which is just down the street from our place.

Every holiday people come to worship and to be sanctified with holy water and Easter is the biggest of all the holidays!

Here’s what I saw.

In Orthodox tradition Easter services start on Saturday night and continue through the night. At midnight they ring the bells and shout “Christ is risen!” Later in the morning people come with their Easter basket’s, which usually include, a pascha bread, pysanki eggs and wine.

They stand in line waiting to walk in front of the priest who will then sanctify them by sprinkling them and their basket with holy water. After receiving a face full of water they head for home with their baskets to celebrate the holiday with family.

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A priest sprinkling a woman and her basket on Easter morning near our home.

After posting the picture above on facebook I received a couple of comments asking how the tradition of sprinkling came about in the Orthodox Church. I myself began to ask that question as I observed the priests liberally dousing their parishioners.

Sprinkling is a common practice in the Orthodox Church. Not only do they sprinkle their parishioners and their Easter baskets but it’s not uncommon for them to also sprinkle people’s cars, houses, and anything else that someone might want to be blessed. In general people believe that the sprinkling protects them from harm and will keep them getting sick and help them be successful.

So where did this practice come from?

Here are a few Scriptures about holy water that Orthodox believers would  point to.

Exodus 30:17-21 The Bronze Basin

The bronze basin was part of the tabernacle as instructed by God in Exodus. The basin was mainly used to hold water that the priests would wash themselves with before ministering in the tabernacle. Later Solomon constructed the a similar basin called “the sea” for use in the temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 7:23)

Leviticus 14:1-7 Sprinkling with the Aspergillum

You may have noticed in the video above or in the picture that the priest is using a special “brush” to sprinkle the water on the parishioner. This brush is called an Aspergillum. The basic idea is taken from Leviticus 14 where God instructs the priests on how to sprinkle those who have been been healed from some sort of infectious skin disease.

Other Passages

In addition to the above there are a few other verses that talk about sprinkling and washing with water.

I’ll sprinkle pure water on you all, and you’ll be cleansed from your impurity and from all of your idols.
(Eze 36:25)

so that he might make it holy by cleansing it, washing it with water and the word,
(Eph 5:26)

let us continue to come near with sincere hearts in the full assurance that faith provides, because our hearts have been sprinkled clean from a guilty conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
(Heb 10:22)

The Difference

In Orthodox teaching there is no difference between the nation of Israel and the New Testament Church, they teach that the Church started with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Thus, their theology, buildings, and practices incorporate much of the Old Testament ceremonial law. This includes the idea of holy water and much more.

For instance, Orthodox church buildings are laid out like the Temple, in fact they call them temples, with an alter and a holy of holy’s that only the priests are allowed to go into. They burn incense as was done in the Temple and they have kept the idea of a class of priests as in the OT.

Why Protestants Don’t Use Holy Water

There is one primary reason Protestant Christians don’t use holy water. The priesthood of Jesus supersedes the priesthood established in Exodus and Leviticus.

Here’s what the author of Hebrews says about it:

But when the Messiah came as a high priest of the good things that have come, he went through the greater and more perfect tent that was not made by human hands and that is not a part of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood he went into the Most Holy Place once for all and secured our eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are unclean purifies them physically, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead actions so that we may serve the living God!
(Heb 9:11-14)

Now where there is forgiveness of these sins, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, my brothers, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the household of God, let us continue to come near with sincere hearts in the full assurance that faith provides, because our hearts have been sprinkled clean from a guilty conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
(Heb 10:18-22)

Jesus is a better priest because he can sprinkle and cleanse the heart, something no other human priest can do! Jesus’s sacrifice was the perfect sacrifice, his intercession on our behalf was complete and thus, there is no longer the need for a class of priests to ceremonially sanctify God’s people.

When you believe in Jesus, he becomes your high priest and he gives you unconditional access to God’s throne room!

You don’t need to wait in line on holidays to be sanctified by holy water, there are no lines for true sanctification, you can come now and be forever clean!

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